With April being child abuse prevention month, the actual numbers of children suffering abuse are sobering.
Even more so, with the current circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, child abuse rates will begin to rise. Last year, 841 children were victims of abuse and neglect. Of those, 69 were in Crook County, 668 in Deschutes County and 104 in Jefferson County..
"We know that in time of crisis like this, child abuse rates go up," indicated Staley Micken, general development director for MountainStar. "As families are more isolated, people are losing their jobs and have reduced access to resources—child abuse rates go up. We are super concerned and so the "Keep Kids Safe" Campaign is making sure that we are getting that message out and the community is aware of that."
MountainStar Family Relief Nursery's mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect through community support and therapeutic services that help vulnerable children and families succeed. They are the only program in Deschutes, Jefferson, and Crook Counties providing therapeutic classrooms, parenting education services, and family support targeted at protecting babies and toddlers who are at significant risk for abuse and neglect.
"We serve Central Oregon, and we have a site in Bend and a center in Prineville and Madras," said Micken of their services.
They recently bought a new building and will be opening a center in Redmond, thanks to a generous gift from the Estate of Jean Thompson and a local couple. They also provide services in LaPine.
According to information supplied by MountainStar, during the 2008 recession, there was a significant increase in abusive head trauma (as documented in a 2011 article in Pediatrics). Babies and toddlers normally cry and scream, and parents are supposed to have the emotional bandwidth to maintain a calm center and not take out their frustrations on their children.
It goes on to say, "Everyone is experiencing extra stress and vulnerable children can become victims of abuse when frustrations boil over. The challenges MountainStar families face – extreme poverty, food insecurity, mental and physical illnesses, and domestic violence – are being heightened to unimaginable levels by this pandemic. Parents have been laid off, essential supplies are difficult to find and afford, and increased isolation is taking its toll on parent mental health."For MountainStar, April is the beginning of their fundraising season. They usually have three, in-person fundraisers in each county, beginning in Madras April 28 and April 30. The fundraiser will be May 13 in Prineville and Deschutes County at the end of May.
"We have already shifted all three of those in-person fundraisers to live stream events," said Micken. "We are still trying to connect with the community and still trying to bring those vital funds in that we need to raise."
She indicated that they have a $163,000 fundraising goal to get them to the end of June—the end of their fiscal year. They are still sending out campaign letters and have transitioned it to "Keep Kids Safe" campaign."
While MountainStar has had to temporarily close its therapeutic classrooms due to Governor Brown's order, their staff are staying connected with the families of high-risk babies and toddlers. They are checking in with parents by phone and offering reassurance and support. staff also conduct "home visits" through car windows with families who are on their front stoops.
They are dropping off food boxes, diapers, and activity bags full of playdough and art supplies. They have invented new ways to provide relief to stressed families, including live-streaming book readings and story hour and holding family engagement program nights virtually.
MountainStar was formed in 2001 in response to the community need for comprehensive services for distressed families with very young children. Their Relief Nursery services include the Therapeutic Early Childhood Program (TECP) with four age-specific Therapeutic Classrooms, and the Outreach Program, which provides crisis intervention and ongoing services to high risk families who are not enrolled in the TECP. To further meet the needs of client families in crisis, over the years they have added regular child assessments, home visitations, transportation services, emergency food boxes, services for limited English-speaking families, and mental health services. Since their inception, they have increased the number of children served annually at MountainStar from 34 in the first year (2001), to over 370 children and their families.
Their research-informed programs focus on children at the highest-risk for abuse who are six weeks through five years of age. The infants and toddlers they serve live in households with an average of 13 risk factors, including substance abuse, mental health issues, or a history of family violence. 75% of their client families live at the federal poverty level and 100% of the children they serve are considered at-risk.
To learn more about MountainStar and to donate: mtstar.org/April
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